Slow down, you move too fast

by Thomas Dillon

While dashing through the headlines the other day, I came across a story about a researcher in Scotland who has discovered yet another ailment of modern man: Hurry Sickness.

As described in the article, Hurry Sickness is the feeling of being controlled by time. Of trying to do too many things at once! Of never being able to slow down! Of gnawing your lips over even the slightest delay!

I thought I should tell my wife about this, but I was too busy shaving while I read. I couldn’t catch her anyway, as she was piling out the front door on her way to work, a slice of buttered toast in her mouth and both hands frantically zipping up her bag. We said good-bye with our eyes, like a pair of giant windup toys, twisted up 10 notches too tight.

Hurry Sickness! At last, a disease tailor-made for this country! One whose name Japan should seize outright. And why not? Hong Kong has the flu, doesn’t it? The Dutch have elm disease, don’t they? German measles . . . Hawaiian eye . . . California dreaming — all the best ailments have already been taken. A new one will not stay unclaimed for long. Japanese isogibyo just has a ring to it — a real busy ring.

Here’s a classic case of isogibyo. A salaryman has just passed through the wickets when the departure bell rings for his train. The man’s eyes pop wide and his brain jams into action mode, the first phase of which is to erase every single thought in his head, save one:

MAKE THAT TRAIN!

He blasts through a group of high school kids, vaults down the stairs, rolls over twice, springs up like a leopard and leaps for the door! Which slams shut on his face.

But then it opens again! This time he bowls over an old lady and lands inside. He yanks his briefcase free and staggers about like a dashboard doll. His breath comes in rips, his clothes are twisted, his glasses bent, and his heart thumps like a rabbit’s. Yet he smirks with joy! He made it! Now he need not wait for the next train! Which will not arrive for an entire . . . Two minutes!

Yet, to victims of Hurry Sickness, two minutes can seem like an eternity. I myself feel my worst pangs of isogibyo when ordering a burger.

Clerk (Spitting words like an Uzi): “I’m sorry, sir! But a Super Duper Burger will take two minutes to prepare! Is that OK?!”

“What??!” I shriek inside. “Two whole minutes! Why, I thought this was fast food!”

Clerk: “Is that OK, sir!? Is that OK!?” Clear drool hangs from her chin.

In the heat-up tray I notice a fish bun. It seems there is always a fish bun.

“No! I’ll take that fish bun instead!”

The clerk pivots, grabs the bun, spins back and jams my meal in a sack. She swipes my money, twitches with isogibyo glee and then barks a greeting at the next person behind. Meanwhile, I have already devoured my fish bun.

Too much convenience, too much instant gratification has done this to us, says the researcher in Scotland, and the most recent isogibyo germ carrier is none other than that latest boon to modern man, the World Wide Web.

“What’s wrong with this machine!” my elder son screams, rattling the monitor of our home computer. “I e-mailed my friend 20 minutes ago and he still hasn’t e-mailed back! Something must be wrong! We need to upgrade!”

We do indeed. And not just us and not just the computer. This whole frenzied country could stand a bit more quality time. We need to spend more moments down in the groove rather than up on the move.

Would an occasional ride on the slow train make the economy any worse? Would leaving the PHS at home once a week wreak personal devastation? Would dawdling a bit over a second cup of coffee cause people to like us any less?

Or, instead, would it simply hand us back a few moments of that precious commodity we always forget is limited: our lives.

“People who hurry die young,” my old granny used to say, creaking in her rocking chair. “They’re just rushing to their graves.”

In the same respect, Japanese are fond of noting that the kanji for “busy” is a combination of the characters for “destroy” and “heart.” Heart-speed tends to be better paced than bullet trains, electronic mail and overnight delivery. Sometimes we need to brake a bit to let the heart catch up.

Of course, there remains that smaller segment of the population who believe the concept of time is just a government conspiracy to make everyone work harder. These are the kind of people who never do two things at once, and often don’t even do one thing at once. They are immune to Hurry Sickness. While they may live longer in one week than most of us do in a month, the problem is the week they are living is always last week.

Yet — what’s the hurry? We isogi types have got to needle ourselves to slow down. Rushing rarely changes things anyway. So the next time you find yourself gunning your engine for no reason, just remember this:

No matter how much you hurry, there is always a fish bun.